International design and innovation practice CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati unveils the design of Vibram Connection Lab Milano, an innovative research and development laboratory for outdoor gear in Milan, Italy. The project is developed for Vibram, manufacturer of the popular FiveFingers foot gloves and one of the world’s leading producers of outsoles. By incorporating multiple rocky terrains from the Alps, CRA’s design facilitates the testing and development of active footwear products. In doing so, it experiments with new methods of blending natural and artificial design components in the building, as Milan prepares for the Winter Olympics in 2026.
The creative laboratory occupies 420 square meters of a former industrial building located in Milan’s design district. Inspired by Vibram’s motto “your connection to Earth”, CRA’s design features a 36-meter long testing ground that recreates most of the different mountain terrains found across the Alps. The stones that make the floor constitute a matrix of rocky granulometries, gradually shifting from fine-grained surface on one side to Dolomitic rocks including Candogli and Rosewood marble on another.
“In 1927, the German writer Kurt Tucholsky penned a poem called ‘The Ideal’. He dreamed of a building where one side faces the bustling center of the city, and the other side the Alps. This was the inspiration for our project, which strives to reconnect Milan to its Alpine roots,” says Carlo Ratti, founding partner at CRA and director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “I believe that bridging the worlds of the natural and artificial is the key challenge of contemporary design. Together with Vibram, we tried to bring the Alpine atmosphere to the center of the city.”
The testing area includes a climbing wall, space for gait analysis, and workstations for researchers. The lab can be transformed into a public space for events or workshops, in accordance with Vibram’s open-source creative process. Furthermore, molecular techniques and an electrostatic filter in the ventilation system are employed to reproduce the chemical composition of the Alpine air inside the laboratory.
The Vibram Connection Lab furthers CRA’s exploration into design that merges the natural and artificial worlds. Sustainability and the circular economy are being explored at the Italian pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020, jointly designed by CRA and Italo Rota, with Matteo Gatto and F&M Ingegneria, where organic materials such as orange peel and coffee grounds are employed in construction. CRA also investigated how industrial production could be made less invasive, with the technologically-driven master plan for the former Patrick Henry military village in IBA Heidelberg, Germany.
Vibram Connection Lab Milano
A project by CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati
Creative Lead: Italo Rota
With the collaboration of Hervé Barmasse
CRA Team: Carlo Ratti, Andrea Cassi (Partner in Charge), Chiara Morandini (Project Manager), Alberto Benetti, Mario Daudo, Ina Sefgjini
Renderings by CRA Graphic Team: Gary di Silvio, Pasquale Milieri, Gianluca Zimbardi